Tag Archives: historian

Women’s history, suffragettes near and far

Centenary of the Representation of the People Act

This year is a special year in Women’s history. The 6 February 2018 was the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, the change in the law that gave some women in the United Kingdom (UK) the right to vote for the first time.

The Representation of the People Act gave the vote to women over 30 who owned property or were graduates voting in a university constituency. It also gave the vote to more men — their voting age was lowered to 21 and the property qualification was abolished. Women would get the same voting rights as men, ten years later in 1928 with the passage of the The Equal Franchise Act.

British women’s right to vote came after a bitter struggle between activists and authorities. The suffragette movement ran a radical and militant campaign that included property damage, hunger striking and the death of Emily Davison at the 1913 Epsom Derby. Authorities responded with surveillance, imprisonment and force-feeding. The film Suffragette is worth watching if you want to start understanding the suffragette cause.

If  you are interested in finding out more here are some resources:

Women’s history at the National Library of Australia

In 1902 Australia became the first country in the world to give most women the right to vote and the right to stand for election to a national parliament. Indigenous women and men would not be provided with national voting rights until 1962.

Having secured the right to vote in Australia for most women, Australian female activists used their success to support women in the UK and the United States to get the right to vote. If you want to know more about this a really interesting essay to read is Birth of a Nation? by Clare Wright.

Bessie Rischbieth was one of these women. In London, in 1913, during the height of the suffragette movement, she found their cause deeply inspiring. This would drive her own campaigns for women’s rights in Australia. Bessie also built up a large collection of suffragette items that were bequeathed to the National Library of Australia (NLA). Deeds Not Words is an NLA exhibition based on Bessie’s collection. It opened on the 6 February and ends on the 19 August 2018. I am really looking forward to seeing this.

Muriel Matters

Muriel Matters was an Australian woman who joined the suffragette cause in a big way. Her commitment included in 1908 chaining herself to an iron grille in the ladies’ gallery of the House of Commons, which resulted in a month’s imprisonment in Holloway Prison; and in 1909 flying over London in an airship inscribed ‘Votes for Women’ and scattering handbills over the city.

Here are some resources about Muriel Matters if you want to know more:

If you are interested in the suffragette movement I hope this information helps you do some further exploring. I think there are some really fascinating stories to discover here.


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Muriel Matters in prison dress



Have not learned their history

Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.
— Joan Wallach Scott

Agree or disagree? Also does anyone know what the United Women’s Movement was?


Demonstration by the United Women’s Movement against the gas strike, Melbourne, Victoria, 1947

A world that never has existed

Everything that explains the world has in fact explained a world that does not exist, a world in which men are at the centre of the human enterprise and women are at the margin ‘helping’ them. Such a world does not exist — never has.
— Gerda Lerner

Agree or disagree?

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Women assaulting a non-unionist at the re-opening of the Broken Hill mine, 1892




They lived through these times and we did not

I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “utopian” artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience; and if they were casualties of history, they remain, condemned in their own lives, as casualties.
― E.P. Thompson


Dance and music in colonial Australia

As explained in Valentine’s Day in colonial Australia early Australian newspapers show that the traditions of Valentine’s Day were celebrated by Australian colonists, at least, as early as 1825 — about forty years after the British arrived in Australia to start a settlement of convicts and guards.

This celebrating of St Valentine’s Day seems to fit neatly with research done by Heather Blasdale Clarke, a dance teacher, and historian who has been studying the role dance played in early colonial society. According to Heather:

Popular culture was quickly established in the colony and this included music and dance for the common people. Visitors to the colony in 1820s reported on the large number of public houses where dancing took place and a French visitor remarked on the “excessive” amount of leisure time the convicts enjoyed.

Heather makes the point that this runs counter to earlier, influential, accounts of convict life in colonial Australia, which emphasised the brutality of transportation such as Marcus Clarke’s novel For the Term of His Natural Life.

If you want to know more about Heather’s research you can read about it, in this article, she wrote for the ABC, Australian convict life made more bearable by colonial dance and music. Heather has also established a really appealing website Australian Colonial Dance, where you can find lots of information about the history of music and dance in colonial Australia.


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